CACHE CREEK – “If the shoe were on the other foot, if we were missing and Clayton was not, he would be searching for 14, 16 hours a day and he wouldn’t give up.”
That is why volunteers continue to scour the waterways in Cache Creek in hopes of finding their volunteer fire chief of 11 years, according to Cache Creek mayor John Ranta.
Clayton Cassidy, 59, went missing last Friday morning, May 5, after he was last known to be checking creek flow levels at a campground east of Cache Creek, where flooding began in the area.
The search is now a recovery mission, with Cassidyis feared to have been swept away in a swollen creek. But Ranta says volunteers are still going out each day to try and bring closure to the Cassidy family.
It’s the same week Cassidy was planning to go to Paris with his wife Rose. Ranta says Cassidy has worked tirelessly his whole life to get to a point where he could sit back, travel and enjoy time with Rose.
“It just enhances the tragedy that much more to know the effort he put into getting himself established in life so he could step back a little bit and enjoy the company of his loving wife for years to come,” Ranta said.
The tragedy has sent shockwaves through the communities of Cache Creek and Ashcroft, where people are dealing with flooding and have had to deal with the loss of their beloved fire chief.
“He was dedicated, compassionate, friendly, funny, caring, willing to drop everything to help out his fellow citizens,” Ranta says. “If any man were to meet Clayton and get to know him a little bit… they would walk away from that meeting saying to themselves ‘I wish I could be a little bit more like that guy’.”
Ranta has known Cassidy for 40 years and in that time he’s seen Cassidy giving back to the community in any way he can. Last year, Cassidy was awarded the Medal of Good Citizenship for his work during the 2015 Cache Creek flood.
One of Cassidy’s seven siblings, Patrick, has taken on the role he believes Clayton would have taken on in a tragic situation. He’s been communicating with media and keeping up with the latest search efforts, all while missing his brother.
Patrick says laughter has been the best form of medicine for his family at this time, and that Clayton’s grandchildren have been a much needed distraction.
“The grandchildren have been a blessing during this time,” he says. “I have nieces that are there, one is (five years old), she gives me hugs every morning when I go out, hugs when I get back.”
Patrick says Clayton retired two years ago from his career, but has been taking care of his aging mother ever since.
“Some people say he was retired but I think he was busier than he planned to be,” Patrick says.
Editor of the Ashcroft Cache Creek Journal Barbara Roden has seen the tragedy hit the communities of Cache Creek and Ashcroft.
“It was just devastating,” Roden said, reflecting back on the morning of last Friday.
She originally got a phone call that morning saying someone was missing in the waters of Cache Creek, but a short time later she received a call saying that the missing person was Cassidy.
“Immediately I just started crying,” Roden said.
Both Roden and Ranta remember Cassidy as being involved with every aspect of the community, whether it was with the volunteer fire department, coaching sports, or the Parent Advisory Council.
Roden says one of Cassidy’s favourite parts of his job as volunteer fire chief was when two to three children would be picked at school to be “fire chief for the day.”
“It was just the nature of the man, he was just so friendly, always had a big smile on his face,” she said. “He just loves the community so much, it ran in his blood.”
Cassidy’s pickup truck was found running on Friday, adjacent to the water he is believed to have been checking out earlier. Roden says it would have been typical of him to return to the area to double check that everything was alright.
“A huge hole has been ripped out of Cache Creek and to an extent, Ashcroft as well,” Roden says. “Everyone says, including family members that I’ve spoken with, we just want to bring Clayton home.”
While firefighters have had to deal with protecting their fire hall and other areas from flooding, Roden says the big focus for them is finding Cassidy.